A starter and backup. A timeshare. Alternating series—or snaps.
That quarterback battle between DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire? As of today, the possibilities are limitless.
“I have not taken anything off the table. Really. Honestly,” head coach Brian Kelly said, when asked why he wouldn’t play two quarterbacks. “If we go down the roster and look at the playmakers on offense, two of them are on the quarterback side.
“I’ve got to look at all of those and factor every one of them in. For me not to look at every single scenario possible as it relates to the quarterback position, I would not be smart as a football coach. We’ll look at every option and everything that’s available to us to put the best offense on the field. Everything is on the table.”
After spending the spring talking about finding a starter and disappointing one very good football player, this is a far more intriguing comment than maybe any of us will allow.
And why is that?
Maybe it’s the burn we still feel after spending an offseason wondering what the duo of Malik Zaire and Everett Golson could do after their dynamic-duo performance in the bowl win over LSU. Or maybe it’s because we just watched Urban Meyer—still a deity in the eyes of most Irish fans—turn his (regular season) offense into a huge disappointment as he mismanaged a depth chart that was three-deep entering last season and had Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield.
But if Kelly has truly backed away from the starter-backup concept and really is willing to play both quarterbacks, what this Notre Dame offense could look like is really an incredible proposition.
Is it Kizer between the 20s and Zaire in the red zone? Is it both guys on the field at once? Is it it a ham-and-egg combo like the near-perfect gameplan we saw against LSU? Or maybe the turbo-speed attack that Irish fans have been clamoring for since the day Kelly got to South Bend?
Both quarterbacks can run. Before Kizer became the team’s goal line and short yardage option, Zaire was ready to be a chain-mover as well and breakaway run threat as well. And gone are the days of worrying what happens when No. 1 goes down. As we saw last year—nothing changes.
Kelly’s certainly not afraid to make an unorthodox decision. Last offseason when he decided to bring Mike Sanford to town, much was made about the offensive coordinator title given to the young assistant, with Mike Denbrock “promoted” to associate head coach.
But that leadership trio went as smoothly as you could ask, taking the Irish offense to new heights, even while breaking in a quarterback who wasn’t accurate enough to hit water from a boat the spring before.
Given an entire offseason to figure out how best to utilize Zaire and Kizer, maybe there’s enough confidence atop the Notre Dame program to go out on that ledge again. Because while it’d certainly be a risk, game planning for both Kizer and Zaire would be a nightmare for opponents.
After day one, it all seems possible. And with Kelly growing more and more comfortable about the competition as it’s finally arrived, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency.
“We don’t have to make a decision until they tell us only one quarterback can play,” Kelly said after the team’s opening practice at Culver Academies. “And that’s right up to Texas.”